Sports, Fandom, And Happiness

by Max Sirak

Kick 6 with Tim for column"If you wish to be happy, Eragon, think not of what is to come nor of that which you have no control over but rather of the now and of that which you are able to change." (Christopher Paolini, Brisingr)

"I believe that humans are primarily driven to seek greater happiness, but the definition of such is personal and cannot be dictated and should not be controlled by any group.." (Michael Shermer, The Science Of Good and Evil)

"It seems to me that every thing in the light and air ought to be happy, / Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough." (Walt Whitman, "Sleepers")

"Don't let millionaires and billionaires ruin your day." (Terry Pluto, The Cleveland Plain Dealer)

A Young Adult fantasy author, a science writer, an American poet, and a local sports columnist walk into a bar, grab a drink, bundle up, and then to go to a parade…

Given the international, cosmopolitan flavor of 3qd, I'm not sure how many readers pay attention to American Football. Were I a betting man, I'd venture to guess Futbol trumps Football when it comes to our fan base. However, I've been wrong before and I'll be wrong again, so who knows?

Either way – today I'd like to call a time out and talk a little about sports, fandom, and philosophy. Take a knee, gang.

First, An Aside Bonnaroo_2013

Tim is one of my best friends. Every year he organizes a pilgrimage to Bonnaroo, a gigantic music festival in Tennessee. There's over 100+ musical and comedy acts, performing on 10+ stages, from about noon each day until 6 am the next. Usually between 60 and 80 thousand people show up to camp in fields and listen to music.

It's a damn good time.

Tim's been leading these trips since 2003. Some years he has a group of 8-10 people. Other years the numbers in his caravan swell to more than 20. But, every year, regardless of turnout, he gives an introductory speech to his flock.

"Look, there are a million different things happening here at all hours of the day and night. Keeping the whole group together is going to be impossible. We are each in charge of managing our own fun."

I Thought This Was About Sports?

On January 6th, outside First Energy Stadium, home of the Cleveland Browns, in temperatures with a windchill of -3 F (-19.4 C), an estimated 3,000 people showed up to march around the stadium. The reason? The Browns put up a perfect season.

They lost all of their games.

That's right.

Their record for the 2017 NFL season was 0-16.

As you can imagine, the Parade was polarizing. Some Cleveland Browns players tweeted their disgust, as is their right (here). Most stayed quiet, at least to the social-media-world-at-large. Local and national outlets wrote articles and editorials admonishing and analyzing. (Here, here, here, here, here).

The man who organized the parade, season-ticket holder Chris McNeil, is on record saying part of the reason he engineered the event was to get the attention of team ownership as a form of protest. Fans can't take a knee. We can, however, throw a parade.

By many accounts, the parade was more festive than feisty. No violence. No arrests. Just a bunch of people, probably drunk, who cheer for the same team, and are in adage agreement with the company-loving nature of misery.

And, as a fellow Cleveland fan, I admire them.

Some History

I grew up in Ohio, 60 miles south of Cleveland. I remember being a little kid and bundling up to drink hot chocolate and watch the Browns play at "the old stadium" with dad and grandpa. Typically this meant lots of neck-craning in hopes of seeing around gigantic concrete support pillars to catch what was happening on the field.

My earliest sports memory is of something called The Fumble (otherwise known as the #2 worst play in football history. Watch here). I was six. I was eating pizza with my mom, sitting too close to the TV, and watching the game. My dad, uncle, and grandpa were there.

It was the AFC Championship game. If the Browns won, they were going to the Super Bowl. If they lost, the season was over.

I remember dropping my plate on the floor and jumping up and down because it looked like we had just won.

Except we didn't.

After college, I moved to Colorado. My Cleveland sports love is something I carried with me across the country. Every Sunday, I get together with a couple friends and watch the Browns. Let me tell you, it ain't pretty. And it hasn't been for a while.

In the last decade the Browns have played 160 games. They've won 38. This means, on average, in any given month of the season, for ten years straight, Cleveland loses at least three of the four games they play.

Marinate on that for a moment…

To The Blimp-Cam For Perspective

Why does anyone watch sports and cheer for a team?

Obviously there's no single answer. Some folks enjoy watching greatness and have an appreciation for the apparent effortless ease high-level athletes exhibit. For others it's a chance to work within a sanctioned system of us/them, in-group/out-group tribalism.

Terry_Pratchett_2005For me it's a way to stay connected with my roots. I'm a firm believer in author Terry Pratchett's words, "If you do not know where you come from, then you don't know where you are, and if you don't know where you are, then you don't know where you're going. And if you don't know where you're going, you're probably going wrong." Plus, Cleveland sports is a common ground upon which to stand and relate with my Ohio family and friends.

Ultimately though, the reason people watch sports and cheer for teams is because they enjoy it. It's supposed to add a measure of happiness to life and fulfill a need. There's a word, disport (di-sport), that literally means "to amuse, entertain; Amuse or divert oneself; occupy oneself pleasurably."

Sports are supposed to be a diversion from our grind. Obligations of family and work occupy so much of our time, energy, and attention that it's nice to be able to unplug from these "real world" concerns. In the communion of fandom we lose ourselves and join with something bigger. It's a form of recreation (re-creation).

But There's A Stupid Catch

Results.

Most fans live and die with the success and failure of their team. People cheer, celebrate, and high-five or hug total strangers when their team wins. They mope, get angry, act out, eat their feelings, or have to take a nap when their team loses.

Attaching your emotional well-being and general enjoyment to an outcome of a game you have no power to influence is foolish. It flies in the face of the advice at the beginning of the column. Both Michael Shermer and Christopher Paolini caution against this willful gifting of power.

But this is exactly what most fans do. And for those whose teams win, this has the potential to increase the amount of joy on certain days. But, if you happen to find yourself in the colors of a team who loses more than they win, then you're offering an open invitation to sadness.

Unless of course, you are wise and heed Walt Whitman and Terry Pluto's words. Walt points out, "Hey, things really aren't that bad. You're here. You're alive. That's all you need." While the practical Pluto petitions us to remember the people actually responsible for these in-game outcomes, the owners, managers, players, etc., have way more money than we do. Why let a bunch of rich people ruin your day?

The Parade Participants Got It Right

To me the parade wasn't a protest against a dismal decade or a festival honoring futility, but as an example of character, wisdom, strength, and sense.

These are people who follow my friend Tim's advice. They manage their own fun. They refuse to hitch their happiness to results well-beyond their control. These men and women reject the authority of a trivial outside influence telling them how and what to feel when. They decide to own their actions instead of being owned by their reactions.

They took all things you're supposed to be after a season of suffering (frustrated, disgusted, angry, sad, etc.) and decided to laugh instead.

So, yeah. A Young Adult fantasy author, a science writer, an American poet, and a local sports columnist walk into a bar, grab a drink, bundle up, go to a parade — and come closer to the whole point of fandom.

Oh – they also raised $17,000 for charity.

Go Browns.

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Max helps people write their books. Learn more here.

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Photo credits

1) By Gabisauke (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2) CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=276936

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Most sources are linked in article or quoted directly. Here's the rest…

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/412254-if-you-do-not-know-where-you-come-from-then

https://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/cle/index.htm

http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2018/01/browns_parade_5_things_to_know.html

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